Indonesia: Uncovering the Hidden Culture in Sulawesi

Have you ever heard of Tana Toraja? or Sulawesi? No, me neither. You may not even know where Indonesia is on an map exactly, it’s so spread out and scattered. Hanging out with locals in Sulawesi, Indonesia

I didn’t know much about Indonesia either, until I stumbled upon deciding to explore the rarely explored island of Sulawesi that makes up one of Indonesian’s 922 inhabited islands.

I’ve touched upon the incredible snorkelling that can be done in the Northern and Mid reaches of this island in the Togean Island area, and the stunning reef off the coast.

But, Sulawesi also offers another very special and unique area to visit: Tana Toraja. The fields of Tana Toraja on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia

The people of Tana Toraja, in the islands’ south, have an unusual belief about life: That your goal whilst on earth should be saving as much as you can to have a really amazing funeral. Their idea of an amazing funeral means feasts for days, hundreds of people in attendance, animal sacrifice and in some instances effigies being made which are worshipped. Effigies in Tana Toraja on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia

And what if you don’t have enough money for the amazing funeral you deserve, when you do happen to die? Well, they keep you inside your coffin, in family home (preserved with formaldehyde) until the family have saved enough to give you the send off you deserve. For some families this means living alongside their deceased relatives for years. Preparation of the feast for the funeral in Tana Tojara

It’s an interesting concept to say the least and a far cry from the experience you may have had with death in your culture.

This unusual cultural tradition has led many visitors seeking to attend a funeral, which is a real party affair. In exchange for a gift, most families are very accommodating and gracious about welcoming outsiders to join the festivities. In my instance; even being offered to view the body of the lady whose great life we were celebrating. to the rice paddies of Tana Toraja on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia

If funerals aren’t your thing, then the good news is Tana Toraja has some of the most spectacular landscape you can imagine. Rocky rice paddies perched on mountains, beautiful traditional houses, the best sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life and the true spirit of culture that has all but evaporated from great parts of Asia. to the traditional houses of Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Rock up to the bustling town of Rantepao and nab yourself one of the many guides hustling for business around town, and be whisked away in taxi or scooter to see the wilds of Tana Toraja only a short distance away. Scooter around Tana Toraja region in Indonesia’s island of Sulawesi

It’s also possible to be self guided, hiking from village to village, or taking your own scooter to ride the hairpin bends whilst avoiding the large pot holes.

I opted for a guided scooter ride, as I clung to the back I was able to get a great running commentary on the culture, visit a funeral, whilst accessing the harder to reach places of scenic beauty that a taxi would’ve struggled to drive to.

I’m always on the look out for the last frontiers of adventure and Tana Toraja is definitely the epitome of something different, spiritual and educational. I can’t think of anything more interesting than learning about such a starkly different culture to my own!

Need To Know Before You Go

Getting there.. The most popular way is to fly to Makassar and take a bus to Rantepao. There are options to fly to an even nearer regional airport, in a small plane, but tickets must be organised locally.

The great thing is.. Sulawesi, and especially Tana Toraja, attracts a different type of traveller. You must be interesting of getting outside of your comfort zone and wild to be lured to go here, making the ‘backpacker scene’ one of the most interesting bunch of people I’ve met on all of my travels.

Is it expensive? Nope, not really. Expect to pay similar prices in this part of Sulawesi to the rest of Indonesia; easy to do on a budget and explore properly.

Phoebe Maddrell of Raised predominantly in Herefordshire (United Kingdom), left her homeland for the first time, after being bought a flight to The Netherlands as a 16th birthday present. 11 years later, she hasn’t looked back. Travelling to and around 29 countries, totalling over 700 cities. Funding her travels with a semi-nomadic life in England, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, France and Turkey.